Montenegro. We felt like we had been let in on a well kept secret.
We had only been in Croatia for one full day when we decided to pack our day bags, cross the border, and head two hours south from Dubrovnik to the coastal town of Kotor, Montenegro.
Technically there are two border crossings, one to leave Croatia, and one to enter Montenegro so keep your passports out during the short distance between the two. Our experience was similar at both crossings; it took less than 10 minutes, and both border agents waved off the rental car “green card” travel information, both scanned our passports, and quickly motioned us through with no verbal communication other than a polite, “Dobra dan.”
CROSS TIP: Our rental car company asked us if we would like to add border crossings and ferry transports to our rental agreement. I believe it was a total of $35 USD for the two week rental. They provided us with the extra paperwork required to cross borders (The Green cards so many other blogs mention) and the extra insurance in case of loss during a ferry ride, which is otherwise not covered. We knew we’d be doing both of those activities so it was worth the extra money for peace of mind.
Driving to Kotor is pretty magical. Winding down the stunning Croatia coast, the landscape turned dramatic as the Dinaric Alps came into full focus and we saw the astonishing fertile plane of the Konavle Valley to our left.
The sensational views continued to unfold as we drove towards the Bay of Kotor, skimming the coastline toward the idyllic town of Perast. The charming town is part of the UNESCO World Heritage designation in the region, and should be a travel destination on its own; I wished that we had had more time to explore it!
Tucked under the shaggy crook of the hill of St. Llija, this quaint town of about 300 overlooks the strait of Verige, the most narrow part of the Bay of Kotor.
For those with a little more time, a must see are the two small islets perched in the bay: the Gospa od Škrpjela, Our Lady of the Rocks, which is an unique man made island with a lovely Catholic Church, gift shop and museum.
And Sveti Đorđe, St. George’s, which is home to a Benedictine Monastery, and a cemetery, giving the island its ghoulish nickname of, “The Island of the Dead.” For those of us that love a beautiful cemetery, sadly, visitors are not allowed on St. George’s island.
Arriving in Kotor we needed to find parking. Being a historic district, parking can be a challenge, however there are several public parking lots along the main road near the Kotor Fortress. We chose to drive through the town and were able to find parking with no issue a little further from the main sights. The parking attendant did not speak English but he was very patient in conveying the cost of parking, which was about $7.00 USD for the day.
We headed immediately for the Old Town of Kotor, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and Natural and Culturo-Historical Region since 1979. Major sights within the walls of the town were severely damaged during an earthquake in 1979 but under the guidance of UNESCO, and help from the United Nations, the town was painstakingly restored.
Visiting Kotor in early September during a heat wave was not ideal, however, there weren’t nearly as many tourist as there are during the summer months so we didn’t experience the overwhelming cruise ship crowds that I’ve read about in other blogs.
It was lunchtime by the time we arrived in the Old Town so we found a pleasant restaurant that offered us a lovely view of St. Nicholas Church and St. Luke Square.
Upon sitting down we were immediately besieged by the resident cat. Felines are such an integral part of the town’s history that they have become synonymous with the city and are the unofficial mascot; there is even a Cat Museum with artwork devoted to these intrepid mousers .
The occupants of the town put out food, water and shelter for the furry residents so they are quite tame. A wonderful organization called Kotor Kitties is working to provide medical treatment, along with humaine sterilization to curb the population. The people believe that the cats bring the town good luck and many shops donate a portion of their profits to help care for them. So shop while you’re there!
Our lunch view was perfect, as we dined on pizza (The people of the Balkans seem to love pizza!) we gazed out toward the church of St. Nicholas on the square, Piazza Greca. St. Nicholas was built in 1909 and is “new” compared to the other churches in the old city; like the marvelous and simplistic St. Luke’s shown above. Built around 1195 St. Luke’s is used by both the Orthodox and the Catholics, as there was once an altar for each religion and the two shared the dwelling, altering their services so that each body could worship in its own way.
I’d like to believe that this harmonious existence was why it was spared from devastating earthquakes through the ages. The most recent being in 1979 where extensive damage was done to the area.
Fortified with lunch we were prepared to visit the uhm, er, fort.
No visit to Kotor would be complete unless you made the attempt to climb up to the Castle of San Giovanni or as it is also known, St. John’s Fortress. The cost is 8€ and will take you around 2 hours to hike the roughly 1350 steps to the top.
So in our case, attempt is the operative word. Regrettably, we were not able to climb to the top because we were completely wrecked from climbing so many steps our first day in Dubrovnik.
We made it to the first great lookout and decided that was good enough for us. But if you have been using your stair stepper at the gym and are able to complete the 70 switchbacks to the top, you will be rewarded with incredible views. The castle-fort sits 4000 ft (1200 m) above the crystal bay of Kotor.
The 1500 year old Byzantine castle was built by Roman Emperor Justinian the Great to protect the city. Also, so I’ve read, about halfway to the top you will encounter the captivating Church of Our Lady of Remedy. Built in 1518 by the grateful survivors of the plague, it is said to have sweeping views of the town and surrounding countryside, but we wouldn’t know…
We gingerly made our way back down the stairs and into the town where we spent the rest of the afternoon on flatter ground exploring the nooks and crannies of Kotor.